By Tom Hays
NEW YORK — The city's top law enforcement official went on a media blitz Friday to deny that the chokehold death of a black suspect shows that police are singling out minorities in a crackdown on minor offenses and to insist that Mayor Bill de Blasio is "very pro-cop."
In an interview with The Associated Press, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said he wanted to counter "some of the misimpressions and some of the momentum that's been gained by self-serving interests" in the wake of the videotaped death last month of Eric Garner. Bratton also spoke to CNN, CBS and local television affiliates about the case for most of the day on Friday, while the mayor hasn't taken questions about it since Tuesday.
The amateur video showing officers struggling to arrest Garner on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island and a subsequent medical examiner finding that a chokehold — barred under police policy — contributed to his death have raised questions about the New York Police Department's "broken windows" strategy — the idea that fighting smaller crimes like drinking in public discourages more dangerous behavior. Bratton responded Friday that there are more misdemeanor arrests in minority neighborhoods because more officers are assigned there in response to higher crime rates.
"Are there more minorities impacted by enforcement? Yes. I'm not denying that," he said. "But it's not an intentional focus on minorities. It's a focus on behavior."
He added: "We are not a racist organization — not at all."
Bratton and de Blasio also have come under fire from police union officials who were offended by the sight of the police commissioner and mayor sharing a dais with the Rev. Al Sharpton, a vocal NYPD critic, last week at a City Hall forum. The pair looked on glumly as Sharpton lectured that "the best way to make police stop using illegal chokeholds is to perp-walk one of them that did."
The perception that de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, has sided with civil rights activists at the expense of officers on the street "is something I personally feel very badly about because I've spent a lot of time with this mayor," Bratton said. "I think he's getting a bad rap on this and I think over time that will be shown. ... I think he's very pro-cop, I think he's very pro-New York and I think he's very pro-community."
The commissioner said he had no regrets about sharing a stage with Sharpton.
"Whether you like Al Sharpton or not, he clearly is a spokesperson, particularly for African-Americans, and that is reality," he said.
Garner's death defied a trend of less use of force by the NYPD in past several years, Bratton said. For every 100 arrests, two result in some type of use of force — a far lower average than most police departments in the country, he said.
"This is not a police force that abuses it powers in the sense of use of force," he said.
Bratton has called the Garner video "disturbing." But he declined to comment Friday on the specifics of the encounter, citing an ongoing investigation by prosecutors to determine whether there will be criminal charges brought against any of the arresting officers.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press